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Friday, March 31, 2006

Restoring the edge to the Marvel universe

I talked to Marvel editor in chief Joe Quesada yesterday and writer Paul Jenkins today about Marvel’s big upcoming event, “Civil War.” The miniseries will see the Marvel universe divided over a superhero registration act, which reflects the real-world debate over civil rights vs. homeland security. Jenkins is writing a companion miniseries, “Civil War: Front Line.”

They both made an interesting observation about where Marvel is headed after “Civil War.” In a way, it’ll be a return to Marvel’s roots. When the Marvel “revolution” took place in the 1960s, many of its superheroes, most notably Spider-Man and the X-Men, were mistrusted — more likely to be shot at by the police than welcomed. Over the years, the heroes have become more accepted. But with many heroes in “Civil War” refusing to register with the government, they’re going to be on the outs with the law again.

“This was a great way of giving the edge back to the whole universe a little bit,” says Jenkins, who points out that in the real world, superheroes would pose a real headache for law enforcement. When Spidey catches a couple of bad guys and webs them to a wall for the cops, what are the police supposed to do? It’s not like Spider-Man offers a statement to the police or shows up in court later as a witness.

Splitsville for Clark and Lana

So, is the off-and-on relationship between Clark Kent and Lana Lang finally off for good? On last night’s “Smallville,” Clark (Tom Welling) told Lana (Kristin Kreuk) that he didn’t love her. It was a lie, of course, but it was Clark’s way of ending things before Lana got hurt yet again. That’s always been one of the fascinating things about the series: At its heart, it’s a love story — but one doomed to end in failure, since we know Clark ends up with Lois Lane. But can we please not have any more altered-personality stories? Last night saw Clark hypnotized by a super-hypnotist; other episodes have seen Clark or others altered by red kryptonite, spells, funny critters that live in caves and anything else you can think of.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

The comic-book scholar

Someone at the University Press of Mississippi must really like comic books. I got a mailing from the company yesterday with a listing of its books about comics. Wow, there's enough to satisfy any comics scholar. There's "Alternative Comics: An Emerging Literature." "The Art of the Comic Book." "Seal of Approval: The History of the Comics Code." "Super Heroes: A Modern Mythology." "Comic Book Culture: Fanboys and True Believers." And much more. To see for yourself, go to www.upress.state.ms.us.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Time to get to the comic-book store

A few must-gets today at the comic-book store. Topping the list: “Fantastic Four” No. 536, which features the return of, if not Thor, at least Thor’s hammer. Dr. Doom is back, too; the book also is part of Marvel’s road to “Civil War,” its big event for the summer. Marvel, meanwhile, has released this image of the final cover of the subsequent issue, No. 537. Also out today: “New Avengers Illuminati,” also key to the upcoming “Civil War.” And DC continues to roll out its One Year Later event, jumping most of its titles ahead one year in time. “Green Lantern” and “Action Comics” are among the titles making the jump this week. A new “Blue Beetle” series also arrives in stores today.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Faith and comics

I’ve been contemplating the subject of religion in comic books lately. The scene in DC’s “Infinite Crisis” where a bunch of heroes gather in a church to mourn the dead and missing got me thinking about it. (Who knew that Mr. Terrific was an atheist?) Then there are two new series from Vertigo, “American Virgin” and “Testament,” in which religion plays a crucial role. And I’ve been reading “The Gospel According to Superheroes,” a book that explores superhero comics through a theological prism. “While the characters themselves might not always speak outwardly about religion and the Gospel, their storylines make implicit, and sometimes explicit, points about theology,” editor B.J. Oropeza writes in his introduction. Anyway, I think there’s a story in all this; I just don’t know what yet. Anyone have any thoughts to share?

Friday, March 24, 2006

Long live the Legion

I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for DC’s Legion of Super-Heroes; the Legion’s adventures back in “Adventure Comics” were among the first comic-book stories I ever read. But I just haven’t been able to get into the latest incarnation of the Legion, even though I’m a fan of both writer Mark Waid and artist Barry Kitson. I think I just lost interest after seeing the group re-invented so many times. But out of curiosity, I picked up this week’s issue, which sees the title evolve into “Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes.” Superboy was an integral part of the team when I was introduced to the Legion, so it’s nice to see a Super-somebody back with the team. And Supergirl’s perplexing disclosure at the end of the issue will keep me on board, at least for now.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Time to break out the hankies

Need a good cry? Tonight’s “Smallville” on The WB is a repeat of the episode where Jonathan Kent (John Schneider) dies. The beautifully filmed funeral scene still haunts me. Equally heartbreaking is the moment when Clark realizes he’ll never be able to tell Lana the truth about his powers and his other-world origins — and that as a result, their relationship is doomed to fail.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The cast of "Catwoman" grows

Whether we’ll see a pregnant Lois Lane is questionable (see yesterday’s post), but Selina “Catwoman” Kyle definitely has a bun in the oven. In “Catwoman” No. 53, arriving in stores this week, you’ll see Selina become a mom. I got an advance look, and it’s one of the more intriguing books among this month’s DC titles, which jump ahead a year in time. The big question, of course, is who is the proud papa? Don’t expect an answer in this issue. But look for a fun scene between Selina and Batman. I’m enjoying the One Year Later jump for the most part, but I am getting a little tired of characters’ cryptic references to the difficult events of the past year.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Curses, foiled again

Darn weather. Bargain Comics just sent out an e-mail saying comics would be delayed again this week because of weather. Look for the week's new comics on Thursday instead of Wednesday. It gives us all an extra day to get last week's comics read.

Could Superbaby be on the horizon?

With the solicitation for May’s “Action Comics” No. 839 promising that “three unexpected words mark a turning point for Lois and Clark,” the rumor mill is churning with speculation that a baby is on its way. It only takes two words to say “I’m pregnant,” so I don’t know how much stock I put in the rumors. Some Superman fans on DC’s message boards says they’ll quit reading if there’s a baby for Superman; they don’t want to read about his domestic adventures. But if DC is really going for a lighter mood following the grim events of the last couple of years, a baby would be one way to do it.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Marvel's "Civil War" drawing closer

With Marvel’s big event, “Civil War,” kicking off in May, Marvel’s question to everyone is: Whose side are you on? My question is: Do you care? Or are you tired of these big events? Personally, I’m psyched about “Civil War” and the underlying, real-world theme of national security vs. civil rights. But I have trouble envisioning heroes on both sides of the debate getting to the point where it comes to blows. I wrote about “Civil War” back at the start of the year. Now that it’s getting closer, I’ll be talking again soon to Marvel editor in chief Joe Quesada on the subject. Let me know if you’ve got a “Civil War” question for him I can pass on.

Friday, March 17, 2006

The 20 most memorable moments in comics

The latest Comic Buyer’s Guide includes submissions by readers with their ideas for “The Top 20 Moments in Comic Books.” Boy, that’s a tough one. But some that rise to the top for me are: the death of Gwen Stacy in “Amazing Spider-Man,” the death of Supergirl in “Infinite Crisis,” the death of Superman at the hands of Doomsday (yeah, I know, a lot of deaths here), the first meeting of the Golden Age and Silver Age Flashes, Green Lantern’s encounter with an elderly black man who asks him what he’s ever done for “the black skins,” the Joker’s shooting of Barbara Gordon in “The Killing Joke” and the moment a bat crashing through a window at Wayne Manor gives Bruce Wayne the idea for his guise as Batman. A couple of more-recent moments: the Scarlet Witch transforming the Marvel universe with three words - “No more mutants” - and Spider-Man’s recent epic battle in which the bad guy plucks out one of Spidey’s eyes, which still makes me grimace.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

A new team on Marvel's "Iron Man"

Anybody out there an Iron Man fan? I confess, I haven’t picked up a copy of the series in a long time. But I dutifully sat at my phone today for a Marvel teleconference with the comics press that spotlighted the new “Iron Man” writers: Daniel Knauf, creator of HBO’s “Carnivale,” and his son, Charlie. Their stint begins with issue No. 7, in April. I guess Tony Stark no longer just wears the armor of Iron Man, but has become kind of a biomechanical unit with his suit. The Knaufs, though, say they’re keeping their focus on the man — a guy who is inherently flawed yet trying to achieve a degree of perfection, as Daniel Knauf puts it. Even though Iron Man plays a key role in Marvel’s upcoming big event, “Civil War,” don’t look for his series to tie into the war for a while. The Knaufs started plotting their first arc back when “Civil War” was just a twinkle in Marvel’s eye.

The reviews are rolling in for "V"

“V for Vendetta,” based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd, arrives in theaters Friday, with some sneak previews late tonight. Moore, as you may have heard, doesn’t want his name associated with the movie in any way: He’s not exactly pleased about Hollywood adaptations of his work. Some critics are definite fans of this latest movie, though. Chris Hewitt of Knight Ridder Newspapers calls it “provocative, exciting, funny, beautiful, disturbing, moving and stylish.” Jack Garner of Gannett Newspapers says “V for Vendetta” is “undeniably engrossing” and Carla Meyer of The Sacramento Bee lauds it as “a cracking good comic-book tale.” But Bob Strauss of the Los Angeles Daily News notes that “disarray takes over the film’s script in the final act,” a complaint echoed by several critics. Look for Roger Ebert’s review in Friday’s Go!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Dropping in on an "American Virgin"

DC sent me the first issue of “American Virgin,” written by a former Springs resident, Steven T. Seagle. It’s from Vertigo, DC’s mature-reader line, so don’t be shocked to see nudity and the “F” word repeatedly. It centers on Adam Chamberlain, a 21-year-old Christian youth minister who preaches abstinence until marriage. He’s planning a life with his equally virtuous girlfriend, but a shocking development at the end of issue No. 1 derails that plan. It’s always tricky to judge a series from the first issue. I do respect that Chamberlain isn’t a cartoon figure, but someone who truly believes in what he preaches - though some of his more profane language doesn’t ring true. And I am interested in where the series will take Adam. The cover, by Frank Quitely, is oddly disturbing.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

June will be a hot month for comics

DC and Marvel have released their June solicitations, and it’s another action-packed month. Probably the biggest news is four one-shots plotted by “Superman Returns” director Bryan Singer and screenwriters Michael Dougherty and Dan Harris that promise to bridge the story gap between the long-ago “Superman II” and “Superman Returns.” I’m also excited by the return of the Flash and Wonder Woman in their own series — and dying to know who is behind the Flash mask this time. On the Marvel side, the events of “Civil War” will continue to heat up. And there’s the double-sized finale to Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s stellar run on “The Ultimates.”

Monday, March 13, 2006

"The Pulse" stops beating

It’s another farewell for prolific writer Brian Michael Bendis. His long run on Marvel’s “Daredevil” ended recently. Now “The Pulse” has come to an end with issue No. 14. Which means an end, at least for now, of the regular adventures of Jessica Jones, a former second-string superhero and one of the more complicated women of the Marvel universe. I enjoyed Jessica’s story back in her first series, “Alias,” but confess to following her less regularly in “The Pulse.” I've been around for the last few issues, though, and it's nice to see Bendis giving beleaguered Jessica a little happiness with a baby and plans to marry Luke Cage. For the wedding, check out next month’s “New Avengers Annual.”

Friday, March 10, 2006

Collecting an epic Spider-Man tale

Marvel announced today that the epic, 12-part “Spider-Man: The Other” story that spanned four months and three Spider-Man titles is being collected in one oversized edition. Look for it in April at a cover price of $29.99. If you missed the story the first time, it’s probably worth picking up. There were some pretty emotional moments throughout, and one horrific fight scene that will leave you breathless. And the story promises to have some lasting effects, particularly concerning Spidey’s powers - as long as the writers don’t forget about it as they head into the next Marvel-wide event, “Civil War.”

A trio of titles from DC

I love my job. DC today sent me advance copies of some comics that will arrive in comic-book stores next week, including “Superman” No. 650 (right), “Green Arrow” No. 60 and “Birds of Prey” No. 92. They’re all part of this month’s leap one year forward for the DC universe. I won’t ruin any surprises, but I can tell you that you won’t actually see Superman in “Superman” or Green Arrow in “Green Arrow.” And there’s at least one very surprising new member in “Birds of Prey.” The One Year Later jump is intriguing because it puts new readers and old on a level playing field: As we join stories in midstream for the most part, we’re all confused. But I hope answers come sooner rather than later. I didn’t understand a lot of what was going on in “Birds of Prey,” and I don’t think “huh?” is really the way you want readers to react to a story.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Mideast superheroes coming to the U.S.

I talked yesterday with an exec from AK Comics. It’s understandable if you haven’t heard of AK: It’s based in Cairo, Egypt, and proudly publishes adventures of the first home-grown Mideast superheroes. The comic are distributed in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East in Arabic and English versions. AK is now trying to make a name for itself in the U.S., too, and the company’s four series will be found in American comic-book shops starting in May. A batch of comics from AK is headed my way; it’ll be interesting to see how they match up with Marvel and DC and the like. An upcoming Comics Fan column will have more on AK.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Keep an eye on "Fantastic Four"

This afternoon, Marvel held a teleconference with the comics press to talk about the upcoming “Fantastic Four” No. 536. Why does this particular comic merit such attention? Well, let’s see. The issue features the crashing to Earth of Thor’s hammer, which will set the stage for the eventual return of the mighty Thor, who we haven’t seen in a couple of years. It also brings back the FF’s most notorious villain, Dr. Doom. And it’s a key issue leading toward the big event of the year, Marvel’s “Civil War.” Look for it to arrive in comic shops March 29.

Jazzed about "The Last Stand"

Did you catch the trailer for “X-Men: The Last Stand” (previously “X3") on Fox last night? A lot of fans have been grousing that director Brett Ratner, taking over from Bryan Singer, is going to ruin the franchise. But the trailer sure got my fanboy blood flowing. A lot of cool-looking new mutants, including Kelsey Grammer as the Beast. My big worry is that the story - combining Magneto,a mutant cure, the classic Dark Phoenix story line and more - is going to be too cluttered. The latest Entertainment Weekly, by the way, has a report on the movie, focusing mostly on the fuss over Ratner.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Comic-book movies go home empty-handed

“Batman Begins” had one shot at becoming an Academy Award winner last night, but alas, it didn’t happen. The movie was up for best achievement in cinematography, but cinematographer Wally Pfister lost to Dion Beebe for “Memoirs of a Geisha.” “A History of Violence,” based on the graphic novel written by John Wagner, was nominated for best adapted screenplay for the screenplay by Josh Olson. But Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana won the Oscar for their “Brokeback Mountain” screenplay. And William Hurt was nominated for best supporting actor for his role in “A History of Violence.” He lost to George Clooney.

Friday, March 03, 2006

The first look at the new DC

The DC universe has begun its leap one year forward, and so far, I’m liking what I’m seeing. “Detective Comics” this week finds Batman and Robin reunited and returning to Gotham City after a mysterious year’s absence. More surprising, perhaps, is the return of James Gordon as police commissioner, a job he abandoned after being gunned down and nearly dying years ago. One reader groused online that the new status quo is simply a return to the old one, but I don’t mind: I’ve missed the friendship between Gordon and Batman. “Aquaman” also caught my interest: It’s now titled “Aquaman: Sword of Atlantis” and features a new and rather befuddled Aquaman, with the old Aquaman that we know and love perhaps hiding in plain sight. For the reasons behind DC’s One Year Later event, see Sunday’s Comics Fan column.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

A confusing "Crisis"

So, anyone want to explain “Infinite Crisis” No. 5 to me? I understand that the multiverse is back and that we’ve got a bunch of parallel worlds again, and that Superman of Earth 2 tries to beat up Superman of Earth 1 because he irrationally blames him for the death of his beloved Lois Lane. But as far as what heroes are on what world and what Nightwing is planning as he leads the charge to save the universe and so on, I’m a little lost. I think having different artists through the story added to it feeling disjointed. Maybe it’ll make more sense on a second reading. I did like the opening scene where many of the heroes gather in church to mourn those who have died or are missing - an interesting acknowledgment of faith in the DC universe.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Secrets from the grave

It’s Wednesday, which means ... new comics! A couple of must-reads coming from DC today, including the fifth issue of “Infinite Crisis” and “Batman Annual” No. 25, which FINALLY reveals how Jason Todd - the second Robin - came back from the dead. I’m guessing a rather fanciful explanation having to do with parallel worlds or cracks in the space-time continuum or something like that. Like the return of dead sidekick Bucky in “Captain America,” I was opposed to Jason’s resurrection. But both have made for interesting stories.